Resolution for Cannes row over Netflix

Festival to introduce new rules to preserve cinema.

by Richard Mowe

Family saga: Adam Sandler in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories
Family saga: Adam Sandler in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories Photo: Cannes Film Festival

"When is a film not a film?” This conundrum appears to have taken the organisers of the Cannes Film Festival unawares - until today (10 May) when they have ruled on the issue.

The controversy arose with the inclusion of two titles in the official Competition (and therefore Palme d’Or contenders): Okja, by South Korean film-maker Bong Joon Ho, and The Meyerowitz Stories, by Noah Baumbach, both financed by TV streaming platform Netflix.

For the last few weeks, French exhibitors have been arguing that the films should be given a cinema release (at least in France) before airing on Netflix. There were emerging rumours that the titles might be pulled from the festival over mounting pressure from the industry.

Okja by South Korean film-maker Bong Joon Ho features actress Seo-Hyun Ahn alongside Tilda Swinton
Okja by South Korean film-maker Bong Joon Ho features actress Seo-Hyun Ahn alongside Tilda Swinton Photo: Cannes Film Festival

The organisers today clarified their position by putting in place new rules for the 2018 edition of the festival which mean that all films in the official Competition must be given a French theatrical release.

“The Festival de Cannes is aware of the anxiety aroused by the absence of the release in theatres of those films in France. The Festival de Cannes asked Netflix in vain to accept that these two films could reach the audience of French movie theatres and not only its subscribers. Hence the Festival regrets that no agreement has been reached.

“The Festival is pleased to welcome a new operator which has decided to invest in cinema but wants to reiterate its support to the traditional mode of exhibition of cinema in France and in the world.

“Consequently, and after consulting its members of the board, the festival has decided to adapt its rules to this unseen situation until now: any film that wishes to compete in Competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French movie theatres. This new measure will apply from the 2018 edition of the Festival International du Film de Cannes onwards.”

The Meyerowitz Stories, which stars Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Elizabeth Marvel and Grace Van Patten, is described as an inter-generational tale of adult siblings contending with the influence of their ageing father (Dustin Hoffman).

Okja is Bong’s follow-up to Snowpiercer. Both feature Tilda Swinton, who has gone full-chameleon with a platinum blonde look alongside co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, and Lily Collins. South Korean actress Seo-Hyun Ahn plays a young girl who befriends a strange creature and goes on an adventure to protect him from being kidnapped by his creators.

The Festival faced a similar dilemma and protests in 2009 after selecting Olivier Assayas’s mini-series Carlos for the competition line-up but climbed down and put in the out of competition section.

The Cannes Film Festival runs from 17 to 28 May.

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